While the NFL postseason hasn’t officially ended yet, draft season has already begun, as this week is Senior Bowl week in Mobile, Alabama. UNC has one representative at the Senior Bowl, defensive back M.J. Stewart, and by all accounts, he is representing himself and his university very well.
Stewart made a mark as soon as he entered the practice field for measurements on Tuesday, as it was discovered that he did not fall victim to measurement inflation on UNC’s roster: UNC lists him as 5’11, 190 pounds, and he was officially measured at 5105 (5 feet, 10 and 5/8 inches) and 198 pounds. Numerous observers praised his build, but the most notable aspect of his measurement was his 31.5’’ arm length, which, while below some teams’ 32-inch threshold for boundary cornerbacks, is certainly long enough to play on the outside. For a player many had penciled in as a nickel-only cornerback, this was a definite positive for him.
If his measurements called into question the assumption that he was strictly a nickel corner, his performance later that day all but shattered it. Take a look at this collection of Tweets:
WR DJ Chark has been underwhelming as well, he's had his lunch taken by MJ Stewart at least 4 times.— Kyle Crabbs (@NDTScouting) January 23, 2018
UNC CB MJ Stewart is simply dominating 1v1s. Pattern matching to perfection and playing the football beautifully. #SeniorBowl— Joe Marino (@TheJoeMarino) January 23, 2018
And, from the same writer who wrote that article about Stewart being a nickel back, this (to be fair, it’s still a very complimentary article):
I don’t think I counted a single rep where MJ Stewart lost in the one on ones. Great performance here on day one.— Jonah Tuls (@JonahTulsNFL) January 23, 2018
It gets even better when you move past Twitter into more detailed recaps:
Inside the Pylon noted him as an exception to an underwhelming cornerback group:
M.J. Stewart impressed, was smooth with his transitions, good at firing back to the football and was proficient in getting his hips turned.
Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports had this to say:
Virginia defensive lineman Andrew Brown and North Carolina cornerback M.J. Stewart had fantastic practices... Stewart was glue on wideouts in one-on-one drills.
Joe Marino noted him as a Day 1 Standout, saying this:
Stewart... was among the most dominant players at any position.
Stewart’s ability to mirror patterns was outstanding, and there were times that it appeared he was running the route for the wide receiver he was covering. There were several terrific reps where he flipped his hips and carried a receiver vertically down the field and remained in the receiver’s hip pocket on every step. He was aggressive attacking the football playing forward and when tracking it over his shoulder with his back to the line of scrimmage.
There were some concerns entering the week that Stewart was strictly a slot corner, but he eased those concerns by showcasing his ability to handle bigger receivers on the outside and crowd shiftier receivers from the slot.
But the real praise came from Tuls, who devoted the first section section of his “Day 1 Winners” article to Stewart. His praise is too long to quote here, so I will simply link and encourage you to read it:
Stewart’s second day was quieter, but only because he isn’t surprising people any more. He still made plays, like this one:
MJ Stewart with the PD on this PA attempt by Benkert pic.twitter.com/r1ywuY4aKL— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) January 24, 2018
And he still drew love from the same guys afterwards, with this from Marino:
North Carolina CB MJ Stewart has been the best cornerback in Mobile. His natural ability to mirror patterns has shown up at every level of the field. The confidence he’s illustrated playing the ball and competing at the catch point has been impressive.
And again, the most effusive praise came from Tuls:
For the second day in a row, MJ Stewart was the best player on the field, regardless of team or position. He shut down every receiver he went up against, both inside and out...I’m convinced he can play on the outside at the next level, and that is why I think he is the big winner so far this week.
Stewart has a couple of questions to answer about his ability to produce interceptions and his long speed, but he’s certainly getting himself noticed early this draft season. With the Senior Bowl game coming up, and the Combine in March, Stewart could be shooting up draft boards this offseason. His former coach certainly thinks so:
I’ve had 3 Thorpe Award Winners on my defenses. MJ is as good as any of the 3. He is a first round pick if the NFL teams truly do their homework. Absolutely loves ball and has a relentless work ethic. Flat BALLER!— Gene Chizik (@CoachGeneChizik) January 23, 2018